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  4. Anna Parker

Anna Parker

Anna Parker artist

Anna Parker is an artist who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. She works primarily with mixed media such as found objects, installations and digital prints, with an emphasis on matters of materiality and embodiment. Some of her recent work focuses on reinterpretations of the mythical stories told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; on June 19th 2016, she exhibited three pieces inspired by Ovid at a duo-exhibition entitled Epitaph, with Sweden-based artist Melanie Wiksell, and here Anna talks about her work for the exhibition. This essay is based on a talk entitled ‘Stranger still are waters charged: Metamorphosing Ovid’s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (Ov. Met. 4.285-388) and Pluto and Proserpina (Ov. Met. 5.385-424)’ which Anna gave at the colloquium ‘Remaking ancient Greek and Roman myths in the twenty-first century’. The colloquium was held at the Open University’s London centre on 7th July 2016.


Some of my recent work focuses on reinterpretations of Ovid’s myths in his Metamorphoses (translation by A.D. Melville) through the lens of contemporary post-internet cultures. My reinterpretations of these myths are not informed by any particular knowledge of the Classics or Latin; instead, I attempt to bring my readings of Ovid’s myths, the present and their collusions into physical space.

With this approach, I have the flexibility to explore aesthetics that align components of personally relevant post-internet cultures with Ovid’s myths. I am particularly interested in digital and mythical performances of sexuality, desire and obsession, and in my work I create tangible representations of their alignment through multilayered installations.

On June 19 2016, I exhibited work in a duo-exhibition entitled Epitaph with Sweden-based artist Melanie Wiksell. The show reflected on the intersections between narratives and rituals of sexuality and death, attending in particular to themes of discomfort, discordance and obsession. The exhibition consisted of a body of work that gestured towards our implication and participation in these themes.

My three pieces in this exhibition reinterpreted two myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (Ov. Met. 4.285-388) and the myth of Proserpina and Pluto (Dis Pater) (Ov. Met. 5.385-424). In this paper, I will explore these three pieces, focusing on my readings and reinterpretations of Ovid’s myths, the different elements of the pieces, their materiality and embodiment, and themes of sexuality, desire and obsession. Ultimately, my reinterpretations, my metamorphoses, of Ovid’s myths illuminate their resonance with contemporary cultures and their flexibility as material for artistic inspiration and practice.

Piece 1 - Salmacis and Hermaphroditus

Stranger still are waters charged with power to change men’s minds as well as bodies.

Ov. Met. 15.317-318, trans. Melville (1986). [1]
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by Anna Parker

Figure 1. Source: author

My first piece, stranger still are waters charged (figure 1), is a multilayered installation that transforms Ovid’s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus myth into a contemporary setting. Using multiple mediums, including screen prints, fabric prints, neon lights and mirrors, I remake and re-layer the myth, lingering on elements of sexuality, desire and obsession. In this installation, a screen print of myself personifying Salmacis (figure 2) engages with a fabric print of a Sleeping Hermaphroditus (figure 3). In the screen print, a modern-day Salmacis observes Hermaphroditus through her iPhone, hidden behind the leaves of a Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata). Hermaphroditus is unaware of Salmacis’ obsessive gaze and desire, unaware that they would soon become one. The fabric print reappropriates the famous sculptures of the Sleeping Hermaphroditus, especially the one now in the Louvre with the Bernini mattress (Inventaire MR 220). This fabric print itself engages with a neon light behind it with the words ‘this could be us’, recalling a prevalent internet meme, #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin, which denotes unrequited and idealized relationships. This hashtag was used to highlight awkward scenarios of couples in Image Macros (memes consisting of a combination of image and text) on Twitter and Tumblr [2]. These types of memes create stifling worlds of obsession online, where fans attempt to engage with their often unwilling and unaware objects of desire.

Parker Salmacis and Hermaphroditus Salmacis

Figure 2. Source: author

Below the neon light lie twin mirrors (figure 3), which reflect the viewer and their engagement with the piece. The layering of and dialogue between each element invites and encourages the viewers to act as voyeurs witnessing a voyeuristic relationship, implicating them in Salmacis’ desire and obsession for Hermaphroditus. The mirrors enhance this stifling atmosphere, reflecting and amplifying the viewer’s voyeurism. Such voyeurism manifests itself on the internet. Large-scale social micro-blogging and social networking sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit or Youtube provide us with ready access to multiple spaces in which we can perform our desire and obsession for others. In this installation, the viewer forms what feels like an intimate – but in actuality one-sided – relationship with the subjects. The individual elements of this installation and their engagement with each other stand as an invitation, warning and witness to online voyeurism and related social media practices.

Anna Parker Salmacis

Figure 3. Source: author

Piece 2 - Pluto

And, as she’d torn the shoulder of her dress, the folds slipped down and out the flowers fell, and she, in innocent simplicity, grieved in her girlish heart for their loss too.

Ov. Met. 5.398-401, trans. Melville (1986). [3]

My second and third pieces, the folds slipped down and out the flowers fell (figure 4), comprise a two-part installation based on Ovid’s myth of Proserpina’s rape and abduction by Pluto. I retell this myth with found objects and gesture towards toxic sexuality in contemporary cultures. In part 1 of the installation, digital tiles are scattered across the wall like dead pixels on an LCD screen, concealing the intended meaning of the snakes depicted on them. To the viewer, it may appear to be merely an assemblage of decorative tiles, but an understanding of Greek and Roman myth reveals a multiplicity of meanings, namely the chthonic (underworld), protective, generative (reproduction) and phallic (penis) symbolism of snakes. The tiles surround a Snake Plant, representing Pluto and reinforcing the serpentine theme, and this plant lies on top of a worn-out wooden palette. The plant is contained within a plexiglass box partially filled with sand. Each time the plant is watered, the sand absorbs a significant amount of the water, leaving only the surface of the plant replenished. The plant’s processes of life and decay occur before the very eyes of the viewer. I invert the beautiful flowers present in Ovid’s myth, replacing them with a plant that is serpentine and decaying. The different elements of the installation embody ideas of the sexual act as death, toxic phallocentrism, and the chthonic nature of Pluto.

Piece 3 - Proserpina

Not far from Henna’s walls there is a lake, Fergus by name, its waters deep and still; It hears the music of the choiring swans as sweet as on Cayster’s gliding stream.

Ov. Met. 5.385-387, trans. Melville (1986). [4]

In part 2 of the installation, Proserpina, depicted as a bird (Rosella), lies diagonally across from Pluto (figure 4). Her depiction as a bird recalls the presence of birds in Ovid’s myth of Proserpina and Pluto, namely swans. The bird’s wings are spread open amidst two broken concrete pillars. The closer the viewer approaches her, the more noticeable her vulnerability. This encourages an empathetic response from the viewer, inviting them to kneel down and observe the bird more intimately. The bird’s feet are tightly restrained by a royal blue rope wrapped around one of the pillars, the royal blue reminding the viewer of Proserpina’s seizure by Pluto, King of the underworld, and her future role as Queen of the underworld. This rope extends over 10 feet high, and is taut, stretching from the roof to the heavy concrete below. The tension grants a sense of space and movement to the piece, as the bird appears to be caught mid-flight, and the shift in embodiment and materiality gives this work purpose. The bird’s, and Proserpina’s, fragility, vulnerability and movement invite concern, empathy and reflection on the costs and repercussions of toxic sexualities.

Anna Parker Hermaphroditus

Figure 3. Source: author


Ovid’s myths in his Metamorphoses provide flexible material for artistic inspiration and practice, material that resonates with contemporary audiences and cultures, particularly its themes of sexuality, obsession and desire. The narratives, characters and symbols speak to our lived experiences today: Salmacis' obsession and desire for Hermaphroditus evoke contemporary social media practices, and the rape of Proserpina reminds us of ever-present toxic sexualities online and offline. In closing, Ovid’s myths provide me with a rich and multilayered landscape in which to play with and transform different types of found objects, elevate issues of materiality and embodiment, and illuminate and expose contemporary concerns and cultures.


Buchel, B 2012, Internet Memes as Means of Communication, Master’s thesis, Masaryk University. Available from: [11 November 2017].

Cannizzaro, S 2016, ‘Internet memes as internet signs: A semiotic view of digital culture’, Sign Systems Studies, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 562-586. Available from: [11 November 2017].

Cheezburger Network 2017, Know Your Meme. This Could Be Us But You Playing. Available from: [11 November 2017].

Decker-Maurer, H 2012, I Can Has Rhetoric: How Image Macros Address Social Issues in an age of Participatory Culture, Master’s thesis, University of Wisconsin-Stout. Available from: [11 November 2017].

Melville, A (translator) 2009, Ovid. Metamorphoses, Oxford University Press, Oxford.


[1] Quodque magis mirum est, sunt, qui non corpora tantum, / verum animos etiam valeant mutare liquores (Ov. Met. 15.317-318).

[2] On this meme: Cheezburger Network 2017. On Image Macros and memes: Buchel 2012; Decker-Maurer 2012; Cannizaro 2016.

[3] […] et ut summa vestem laniarat ab ora, / collecti flores tunicis cecidere remissis, / tantaque simplicitas puerilibus adfuit annis, / haec quoque virgineum movit iactura dolorem (Ov. Met. 5.398-401).

[4] Haud procul Hennaeis lacus est a moenibus altae, / nomine Pergus, aquae: non illo plura Caystros / carmina cycnorum labentibus audit in undis. (Ov. Met. 5.385-387).